Abstract thinking: the keys to this cognitive process
What is abstract thinking? Let's look at the characteristics of this psychological phenomenon.
The complex mind of the human being allows us to perform different forms of thinking, and abstract thinking is one of them.
Let's go deeper into this process to discover what are the main characteristics of abstract thinking. the main characteristics of abstract thinking and the usefulness it has compared to other forms of thinking that we also perform on a regular basis.
What is abstract thinking?
The mental processes encompassed within the abstract thought refer to those whose content are not whose content are not elements in front of which the individual is in that precise instant.. Abstract thinking is also considered that which is directed to reflect on the causes or principles underlying certain phenomena.
It is a very complex way of thinking and represents a qualitative leap compared to concrete thinking, in which the object of our reflections is in front of us. On the contrary, abstract thinking allows a much more elaborate series of reasonings, which are based on the most recent brain structures, evolutionarily speaking.
This type of mental processes first appear at the onset of adolescence, approximately. The famous author Jean Piaget already spoke of processes related to abstract thinking when he established its different stages of cognitive development. Once the individual develops this ability, he will be able to face much more intricate problems, applying logical reasoning that will make him overcome different situations.
Thanks to abstract thinking human beings are capable of deliberately focusing their reflections on one element or another, at will.. This also gives him the ability to evaluate various objects or ideas, comparing them with each other and analyzing them at the same time, without the need for any of them to be present at the time.
Main qualities of abstract thinking
Abstract thinking has several characteristics that make it very special. Some of them we have already mentioned, but let's take a closer look at the most important ones.
1. Ideas about absent elements
We have already seen the first of these qualities in the first point. It is the capacity that abstract thinking gives us to be able to bring to our mind various elements that are absent. to be able to bring to our mind diverse elements that we know but that are not necessarily in front of our eyes at that moment. Although this may seem banal, it is not so if we look at the capabilities of a child.
In the case of the youngest children, when they have not even developed the perception of object permanence, there may be situations in which the adult who is in front of him, by simply covering his face with his hands, will seem to have disappeared before the baby's eyes. The same happens the other way around, when the small child will think that by closing his eyes or covering them, the adult will no longer be able to find him.
Returning to the ability to think and reason about elements that are not in front of us, we must give this quality the magnificent importance it has, because without it we would not be able to make plans or interpret any idea that is separate from the objects that at any given moment are within reach of our senses. In short, it is one of the capacities that make us human.
2. Thinking of abstract ideas
Thinking about abstract ideas may seem to be a redundancy of the previous point, but in reality it is not. In this case we are not referring to having the ability to be able to reflect on things that we cannot see or touch at the things that we cannot see or touch at that moment, elements that are intangible and therefore we could never physically perceive them. and therefore we could never physically perceive them.
We handle abstract concepts constantly, even if we do not think about it. It is common to think about the beauty of a person, about acts of goodness or evil, we have feelings such as joy, anger or resentment, we know when something is fair or unfair, we have beliefs, desires, illusions or dreams. Some people are in poverty while others have a lot of money and are therefore rich.
These are all abstract ideas, but it is no problem for us to reflect on each of these concepts. This is something we can do thanks to our ability to think abstractly, so we should not overlook the importance of this second quality.
3. Deep reflections
Continuing with the abilities that abstract thinking gives us, another of the most important would be to be able to make deep reflections. We can analyze in detail an element or situation and draw conclusions that make us overcome an obstacle or even anticipate a possible problem thanks to our learning..
Before a certain event, we can try to understand what has been the fact that has originated it, what have been the factors that have intervened in that it has happened in that particular way and finally we can think about the possible repercussions that this event will have in the future.
But this quality goes further, as it opens the door to metacognition, the ability to reflect on our own thoughts and extract other types of learning. For example, we can interpret where our moods come from or why we adopt a certain position on a particular issue, getting closer to the origin of our beliefs or values.
4. Different interpretations
The capacity for analysis that we anticipated in the previous point represents another advantage of abstract thinking that deserves a separate mention. It is the ability we have to be able to interpret an event in very different ways. It is obvious that this happens constantly, since it is enough to imagine any event to realize that different people will have different beliefs about it.
Whether it is a political decision of an administration, a play during a game of any sport or an episode of a fashion series, the abstract reasoning we can make about it admits as many interpretations as our imagination can reach. The abstract reasoning that we can make in this respect admits as many interpretations as our imagination can reach. Each person will be able to add the nuances that he or she deems convenient and it will be a motive for debate or even discussion, depending on the importance that individuals attribute to their position.
Sometimes even the most objective facts are the subject of controversy and disputes arise as to their true meaning and repercussions. This is the other side of the coin of this inexhaustible capacity to interpret that abstract thinking gives us. A double-edged sword.
5. Detecting relationships between elements
In line with the qualities we are seeing, we come to another of the main characteristics of concrete thinking. This would refer to the ability we possess to be able to think about various elements and establish relationships between them.. Moreover, since we do not need the physical presence of these elements, we can hypothesize scenarios and thus be creative and innovative.
People who have highly developed this quality will probably Excel in artistic disciplines such as music, film, painting or literature. Even in the kitchen, since it is also an activity that requires a certain abstraction that allows us to interpret what ingredients or techniques we can combine to generate new dishes.
6. Scientific thinking
The previous point highlighted the usefulness of being able to grasp the relationships between different concepts and thus be able to evaluate different ones. This ability is also the gateway to be able to establish scientific reasoning.. Abstract thinking will allow us to hypothesize about a certain phenomenon in order to try to explain it in a logical way. In addition, we will be able to test these hypotheses.
Moreover, thanks to this ability we are also presented with a different skill, which is that we can observe a specific event and draw conclusions that allow us to interpret the logic behind it, i.e., use inductive reasoning from a specific case to find the underlying generalities. This is another of the most important methods when it comes to hypothesizing in a scientific way.
On the other hand, we can also make use of the deductive method, which will allow us to adjust the general approaches of a phenomenon to a specific event, i.e., just the opposite system to the inductive process. We are able to perform all these complex cognitive processes thanks to our capacity for abstract thinking.
How to improve abstract thinking
Obviously, as with all other mental abilities, not everyone has the same basic skills when it comes to abstract thinking. The good news is that these abilities are not entirely static, but can be exercised to a certain extent through the practice of different through the practice of different tasks that involve using them.
Reflection exercises are very effective and also very easy to carry out, since they can be done while we are in the shower, while we are on the subway or bus, while we are walking down the street or in any situation in which we do not have our mind active in another process. It is enough to focus on a specific topic and inquire about the causes, repercussions, the feelings it awakens in us, etc.
These reflections do not have to be an individual act.. We can debate with other people and enrich each other with our arguments and force ourselves to think in order to clearly explain our position and the logic behind it.
2. The power of reading
Reading is an inexhaustible source of knowledge, but it is also useful to work on our abstract thinking.. We can choose from a multitude of styles and genres and thus transport us to infinite situations that will make us create an imaginary scenario in our head and will lead us to reflect on new ideas or events, resulting in a most stimulating activity for our brain.
3. Create art
Reading, admiring paintings or watching movies are very enriching activities, but it is just as enriching, if not more so, to be the authors of these works ourselves. Obviously not everyone has the necessary skills to create a masterpiece, but the process of creation is equally positive for our abstract thinking, even if we do not have the skills to create a masterpiece. the process of creation is equally positive for our abstract thinking, even if we are far from being experts in a certain artistic discipline. in a certain artistic discipline.
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- Jaramillo, L.M., Puga, L.A. (2016). Logical-abstract thinking as a support to enhance cognitive processes in education. Sophia, Philosophy of Education Collection.
- Rojas-Gomez, J.T.. (2017). Abstract thinking from the interdisciplinarity of Mathematics. Revista Ecomatemático ISSN.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)